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A Short History of Camden - By Michael Richards

A 600-acre tract of land known as “Brecknock”, which now includes Camden, was warranted to Alexander Humphreys in 1680. The earliest known settler in the present town was a James Wells whose dwelling was situated slightly east of the present residence of Maxine Howell at 237 E. Camden-Wyoming Avenue. The Wells home was built around 1685. Nearly a century passed before a village began to appear.

In 1793, Daniel Mifflin, formerly of Accomac County, Virginia, purchased a 112-acre portion of the Brecknock tract, called Piccadilly. At the junction of the Upper Kings Highway (of which Main Street is now a part) and the road leading from Forest Landing (Lebanon) to the headwaters of the Choptank, Mifflin constructed an inn. This was a coaching and horse-changing stop. He also laid out building lots with a vision of a Quaker town before him.

The names Mifflin’s Cross Roads and Piccadilly were both used, but by 1788 the name Camden appears on a deed. Many Georgian and Federal period homes are still to be seen scattered about Camden and the surrounding area.

During the Civil War, escaping slaves from the South found friends here among the Quakers who offered their homes as stations on the “Underground Railroad.” The abolitionist movement was strong among Quakers. The Hunns, the Lowbers, and the Cowgills were probably the main families in this area who were involved in assisting escaping slaves, although the Mifflins, Jenkinses, Nocks, Dolbys, Emersons, and others, if not actually aiding escaping slaves, gave moral assistance to the cause. One known station in Camden is the Cooper House located at 15 North Main Street. A tunnel is said to have connected this house with the one to the south and the loft over the kitchen held bunks. Here slaves in transit were lodged by day. At night, they were moved on, in many cases no doubt, to nearby Wildcat Manor, where they again could be hidden until a ship could be secreted in and out of the St. Jones River. This was just one of the many stages in the slaves’ flight for freedom.

When the Delaware Railroad was started in the 1850s, the original surveys showed that it would come through the then western edge of Camden. The Quakers objected to this rather strenuously and, as a consequence, the plan was changed and the tracks were laid a mile west of Camden.

History of the Meeting

Of all the Quaker Meetings in Kent County, Camden was the last to be established, and is now the only active one. It has absorbed all other Meetings that once flourished in this area. Despite the fact that Camden was founded by a Quaker, Daniel Mifflin who planned a Quaker community, no Meeting house existed until 1805-1806.

Jonathan and Patience Hunn donated the land on which the Meeting stands and the bricks were made from clay which was found on the premises. The front wall is laid in Flemish bond and the sides in Liverpool bond.

There are several unusual features about the Meeting House. The building faces the north while the majority of Friends’ Meetings for some undetermined reason, face the south. There are no porches and the horse-sheds which are a characteristic sight at many Meetings have long been removed. In the burial ground most of the stones are small in keeping with the Friends’ belief of unpretentiousness. There are, however, some new stones of the size found in most cemeteries today.

At the side of the stairway is a panel which can be dropped so that an overflow crowd can be seated on the stairway and yet participate in Meeting. This generally was done for the convenience of servants.

As was the custom elsewhere, Friends established a school where a Meeting was built. The upper floor was used for that purpose here. The Quakers seem to have had the earliest well-established schools in the area, in fact. A school was conducted here until 1882, the last teacher being Alice Cowgill.

John Hunn, Governor of Delaware from 1901-1905, is buried here and there is a marker to Warner Mifflin, an ardent abolitionist who freed al his slaves prior to his death in 1798.

Camden meeting is said to have replaced Motherkiln Meeting (sometimes called Murderkill Meeting) which was located near Magnolia and burned in 1760. Duck Creek Meeting (near Smyrna) was the first meeting to be established in Kent County. The date for this meeting is about 1705. Little Creek Meeting was formed as a preparative meeting under Duck Creek and it dates from 1710. The present meeting house was built in 1802, replacing an earlier frame building. Little Creek Meeting was undoubtedly the largest Friends Meeting in Kent County, but it finally was laid down shortly after the Civil War. A well known Philadelphia architect reported in 1963 that the Little Creek Friends Meeting was an extremely well proportioned building. Unfortunately, it is now in disrepair and being used for storage of farm implements.

Camden Meeting has become more active in recent years. In 1959, an annex was added and a parking lot was made. The land was donated by George and Annette Butler. Meeting is held each First-Day from 11 o’clock to 12 o’clock and a First-Day school is also conducted. We welcome visitors at any time.

Bibliography: History of Delaware by J. Thomas Scharf; Historic Houses of Delaware by Harold Donaldson Eberlein; Historic Landmarks of Delaware And The Eastern Shore by Berry Harrington Macdonald.

 


 

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